More than $5.5 million in one-time federal COVID-19 assistance is heading to the Town of Middletown and its schools. Officials warn they want to be careful with the money to avoid building structural deficits into the town and education budgets.
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MAJOR FEDERAL DOLLARS ON THE WAY TO MIDDLETOWN
MIDDLETOWN, R.I. (JUNE 24, 2021) – The Town of Middletown and its schools are expected to receive more than $5.5 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds.
According to a brief memo presented recently to the Town Council from Town Administrator Shawn J. Brown, the Town was in line to receive about $4.7 million in American Rescue Plan dollars.
At the same time, the School Department is expected to get $957,000 in Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief money, or ESSER for short.
Town officials said they appreciated the assistance, which would go a long way towards offsetting some of the negative impacts from COVID-19.
“We’re still looking into what we’re going to do with our portion of these one-time federal dollars,” Town Administrator Shawn J. Brown said. “We appreciate all the effort that went into securing this money for us from our federal delegation and all the others who worked to make this a reality for Middletown.”
At the same time, Brown said there was one move everyone could be assured Middletown wouldn’t pursue – plugging holes in the operating budget.
“Because this is one-time funding, if we went in and used this money in our operating budget, we’d be creating a structural deficit,” Brown said. “With everything we do, we want to take a deliberate approach and do what’s right for the Town and our taxpayers.”
Superintendent of Schools Rosemarie K. Kraeger agreed, saying the schools were going to take a measured approach with the federal ESSER money as well.
“We have a tentative plan, but it needs School Committee approval,” Kraeger said. “It also needs to be balanced with the reductions to our budget.”
Federal government statistics showed a total of $350 billion in federal dollars are expected to be awarded to municipalities and other government agencies across the country.
The Biden administration has said the funding was needed to help jumpstart the economy, which faced an “unprecedented strain” from the COVID-19 pandemic. At its height, the Biden administration reported that public sector employment lost about 1.4 million jobs, including layoffs of about 1 million teachers.
As a result, the American Rescue Plan is aimed at turning that tide for state, local, territorial and Tribal governments. That includes $195 billion to the 50 states, with at least $500 million to each state, and $130 billion to local governments like the Town of Middletown.
Town and educational officials said the funding was certainly appreciated to help cover costs. While they acknowledged there might have been savings in some areas, COVID-19 brought on a whole new set of costs that no one could have ever planned for or anticipated.
A couple of examples include the need to staff an emergency phone center in the Middletown Fire Station as well as the opening of a clinic at the Community College of Rhode Island campus to administer vaccinations to the most vulnerable populations of Middletown. In the schools, there was a level of cleaning, air filtration and accommodations for distance learning required like never before.
“I think everyone learned quite a bit coming through the COVID-19 experience,” Brown said. “It made us think about how we do what we do and whether there are more efficient, effective ways to do that important work. I know we’ve incorporated so much that we learned through the pandemic into our everyday work function and our residents and businesspeople should see the difference.”